A Month of Green Birthdays

Girls playing with silk streamers

Just like you, I try to lower the environmental impact of my family, including our celebrations. I’ve been so excited about all of the reusable birthday party supplies in the Green Celebrations department of bynature.ca that I spent a whole month writing about it. March (and a bit of April) has been a month of birthdays.

Birthday Party Themes

The first step in planning a birthday party is the theme. It is the structure that we use to hold it all together. My advice through every age is to work with your child’s specific interests and build on those to make a fun party for all.

Baby birthday party
For 1-year olds – 1st Birthday Themes for Babies

Toddler at his birthday party
For 2- to 4-year olds – Toddler Birthday Party Ideas

Young boy dressed as a pirate
For 4- to 8-year olds – Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Children on rock climbing wall
For 8- to 12-year olds – Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas

Teenager on trapeze
For teens – Birthday Party Workshops for Teens

Very Cool Products from bynature.ca

We have a lot of great party supplies and birthday decorations at bynature.ca. I highlighted a few and told a bit of the history beyond the traditions. I thought I would cover a lot more about birthday traditions, but it turns out that many of those party traditions we have all participated in since we were children ourselves aren’t quite as interesting as I had hoped. Believe me, you should be relieved that I didn’t end up writing about birthday candles.

Waldorf birthday ring
Waldorf Birthday Rings

Reusable birthday party hat for children
Party Hats

Stories of Real Birthday Parties

Nature Mom and I have both made our own efforts to lower our party impact. Our success has generally come in raising our children with expectations about celebration more than about stuff. We make their days special with what we do not in what everyone gets (then quickly throws away).

Eco birthday party table
Our Eco Birthday Party by Nature Mom

Gaia Girls Logo
My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party

Eco Birthday Baby Steps

Don’t worry about creating the perfect party. Take the steps you are ready to take, and catch another step for the next party. Taking Eco Baby Steps isn’t about perfection. It’s about the constant process of raising your own and your family’s awareness of how you live.

Child with party favor goodie bag
My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag

Children petting horses
8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party

Eating first birthday cake
Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

Family birthday with cake
Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

See original posts for image credits.

Creative Family Birthday Celebrations

Family birthday celebration for young boy

Holidays and birthdays are opportunities to celebrate the familiar—the family-ar, as in, those ideas and those people who are so close to us that they are part of our intimate circle. For a lot of us who are focused on attachment parenting, those intimate family relationships are the core of our motivation for all of these choices. We are creating our children’s reality. We are setting a pattern for what our children will celebrate as familiar.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections is the coherence of the philosophy of keeping family close while encouraging a child’s freedom of creativity and action. Whether we call this attachment parenting or we just practice it in various forms of “don’t offer, don’t refuse,” balancing our support for each individual child’s need for connection and for independence is the challenge of parenting.

Spiraling around year after year to familiar celebrations is one of the ways we build that nurturing foundation for our children, the foundation that gives them grounding over time.

Making yourself conscious of your traditions as you build them with your young family, according to The Creative Family author Amanda Blake Soule, “can help voice or reaffirm what your family traditions are for yourself and your children, as well as help you reevaluate what you want for elements in your celebrations” (162).

I’ve been so focused on birthdays through this month (and it will continue for another week or so) that I wanted to share with you the Creative Family ideas for birthdays.

We’re all used to the ideas of a big party, presents, balloons, and cake, but here are a few ideas for some creative new ways to celebrate birthdays in your home. These ideas are centered on celebrating the child and who they are, with a little bit less focus on what they want and/or have.

She suggests:

  • a birthday garden, whether a plot or a pot;
  • love letters from parents to child, a beautiful collection over time; and
  • birthday blessings as everyone shares what they love about the birthday child, what they remember of the past year, or what they wish for the coming year

The nudge, push, and shove to celebrate in a particular way is strong, but you as a parent have all of the power to create a tradition of familiar celebrations that fit who you are and who you want to be.

Image © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

Party Hats

Reusable chidren's party hats

Where the tradition of party hats comes from isn’t exactly clear.

During Roman Saturnalia, cheeky slaves wore freedmen’s hats, pointy hats made of red felt, as a reversal of social position. This type of hat became a symbol of liberty that evolved to become the more commonly worn Phrygian hat (think of a floppy red Santa cap). This type of pointy cap spread far and wide as a “liberty cap,” a revolutionary icon during the past two hundred years or so.

As a party hat, though, the turnabout hat-wearing tradition of Saturnalia and the paper crowns that we pop out of Christmas crackers seem closer to the celebratory hat wearing of birthday parties.

Hats can be practical, as in keeping one’s head warm, or they can be symbolic, often sending a social message through their shape or color. Wearing a birthday hat, in addition to the joy of dress up, sets the birthday girl or boy apart, showing that this hat wearer is the special person at this party.

Now, it’s common for all guests to wear party hats at birthdays, New Year, and Christmas. Everyone steps out of the ordinary into the special space a party creates for all.

Make Your Own Party Hats

You can buy adorable, reusable party hats made of felt, our you can make your own reusable hats. Many families have a collection of reusable hats for parties.

For a very simple party hat pattern, see Martha Stewart’s Party Hats. A plate becomes the pattern for a hat that takes just minutes to make. Rather than making your hats out of paper, you can use a couple of layers of wool felt or any stiffened fabric, sewing the overlapping edge. Add ribbon ties or a piece of elastic from ear to ear, and you have a reusable birthday party hat.

Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child

Child pirate ready to party

Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, children are immersed in imaginative play. They love dress up, and they don’t look for direction from adults in creating their characters. A birthday party for young children should take full advantage of this phase. Give the children plenty of chance to be the characters, to tell the story, and to make up the party as they go.

Kids Birthday Party Theme Ideas

For an imaginative play birthday party, set the scene and provide enough structure that the party still feels like a party. Once you show the children the direction for a game or activity, though, give them plenty of space to add their own creativity, noise, and enthusiasm.

Pirate Birthday Party

Reusable pirate party hats

Decorations. Bynature.ca carries the perfect pirate party decorations: a reusable party banner of pirate flags and reusable pirate hats. The rest of the party could include the brightest red or plainest white play silks as flags. If you have any parrot stuffed animals, they need to either go on someone’s shoulder or perch around the room. Transform the food table into a ship. Put snacks in a treasure chest, easily made from a box if you don’t have a chest handy. Use all of the blue play silks, blankets, and sheets to create a watery scene.

Reusable pirate party banner

Games & Activities. Every band of small pirates needs to go on a treasure hunt. When we had a pirate birthday party, we had both readers and non-readers, so we created both written and visual clues for the hunt. We made the hunt itself cooperative, so that all of the pirates had to reach the end together, and all of the gifts and favors were waiting at the end of the hunt. For other activities, you could have each guest take turns talking like a pirate and have everyone else try to translate what they say into English.

Food. My son had a brief obsession with pirate-themed food after we checked out The Pirate Cook Book from the library. I had to track down this out-of-print book and buy it. Jiggling juice bar icebergs, fish-shaped sandwiches, and twice-baked potato pirate boats came in handy at a couple of parties. The cake itself could be a treasure map, a ship, or chest of loot.

Favors. Our pirates took home their loot in cloth bandanas, but we also carry reusable pirate party gift bags. Appropriate loot for these bags would be gold (small cookies), jewelry (homemade), and snacks. I’m not sure Caribbean pirates looked for snacks, but I am sure your young pirates will like snacks.

Reusable goodie bags for pirate party

Dragon Themed Birthday Party

Silk dragon costume for kids

Decorations. How to decorate depends on the kind of dragons your child is interested in. Right now, my daughter is very interested in Chinese dragons. When she was small, she was more interested in the average cave-dwelling, treasure guarding dragon. Keep the party theme to one type of dragon, and create the party space as an appropriate lair. Some dragon parties might have the children fight the dragon, but I think the children will want to BE the dragon—a whole weyr (herd) of dragons.

If your child is turning 8 years old, this is a perfect time to have a dragon party. We carry a dragon number 8 for your Waldorf birthday ring.

Games & Activities. I like having one of the party activities be creating one’s own party favor. For a dragon party, a dragon puppet makes a great craft and favor. Children this age can sew, but a party is not the time for a closely supervised activity. Give each child a sock or another basic hand puppet shape. Provide pre-cut dragon scales, eyes, teeth, and other decorations along with glue. Give them general instructions, but they will have a good idea how to proceed. After they let their puppets dry as they eat or play, they can come back to the dragon puppets and all join together acting out a dragon drama. Another quick game could be Pin (or maybe Stick) the Scales on the Dragon.

Food. A dragon cake is great fun to decorate. I baked multiple round cakes and pieced them together to make a big, snaking dragon. I mounted the mouth on a large spatula to hold it open. I used gummy candy to decorate: gummy teeth for the mouth, Swedish fish for the scales, red licorice fire coming out of the mouth, and big gummy eyes staring out at all of the children. Even short of the 4-foot long monster I created, a dragon cake can be made at any scale. Even cupcakes can be made into dragon faces.

Favors. As with pirates, those who party with dragons often end up with gold, jewels, and similar loot. Maybe guests would like to take home a dragon soft toy or mask to continue the dress up and play. At my daughter’s dragon birthday party, guests had to work for their loot. We created a dragon out of a box about 4′ high and 2′ on each side. The teeth were made from egg cartons mounted on giant BBQ tongs. Children had to reach inside the dragon’s mouth to look for treasure. Sometimes they got little nips (though my husband was a very gentle dragon), but they all came away with gifts. The guests were 6 to 8 years old, and they screamed in delight at every bite.

Birthday ring dragon 8th birthday

Image © Showface | Dreamstime.com

Toddler Birthday Party Ideas

Toddler with birthday cake

Toddlers are ready to have a good time. Even those children who would rather sit on their mothers’ laps during a party will often have a good time observing the fun from that safe spot.

The secret to a successful birthday party for toddlers is flexibility. Have a plan B and plan C to accommodate the ever changing moods of your little guests.

Toddler Birthday Party Themes

Toddlers are not ready to follow a metaphor too far, so keep the theme simple until they are older. Choose one of your child’s favorite things and nudge it just a little further to create some unexpected fun.

Very Hungry Toddlerpillars

Bug Lunch Bag from Mimi the Sardine

Decorations. Bugs can lean toward fun and icky or dressing up like lady bugs. Bugs are easy shapes to draw or cut out for bright decorations. If you have stuffed animal bugs, place them around the party—but remember that toddlers may want to claim them. They might be better placed out of reach but within sight.

Games & Activities. The Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or several other Eric Carle books can be a wind-down activity that leads into an art project. If you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the children can act out eating different kinds of food then act out wrapping themselves into a cocoon then flying around as butterflies. You could also go for a traditional game of stick the spot on the lady bug.

Food. Cupcakes can be lined up to look like a caterpillar for the birthday cake. You could even space out snacks throughout the party as your little caterpillars eat their way through a variety of small snacks.

Favors. A board book or a soft bug toy would make perfect party favors. A wooden earthworm can still be a fascinating quiet toy for a toddler as they figure out why the worm changes shape as they twist it. For a practical party favor, you could fill a Mimi the Sardine bug print lunch bag with popcorn like Nature Mom did for her recent party.

Wooden worms baby toys

Gift. If you want to follow the party with a gift, Wheely Bugs are great for toddlers who may not quite be ready for tricycles.

Bug riding toy for toddlers

Dance Party

Child dancing with silk streamers

Decorations. Think of what your child associates with dance. Ballet? Disco ball? Dress up and spin? Follow your child’s interests. Play silks are always helpful in creating a beautiful atmosphere for a young child.

Games & Activities. Once you gather your guests, explain that when the music starts, there will be a dance party. This can be a useful distraction from typical toddler discussions of “It’s mine!” and “Give it back to me.” Drop everything because it’s dance time. The dancing can give toddlers a positive outlet for their energy, and it can be a segue between activities.

Food. Create a simple cake with dancing figures made of marzipan or modeling chocolate, or make the cake in the shape of a pair of dancing shoes.

Favors. For another activity, you can add whistles and rattles for a dancing, musical jam session. These simple musical instruments can also be your party favors. Silk streamers can also be both dancing accessory and party favor.

train whistle

Tips for Toddler Parties

  • Invite Parents. Toddlers still need enough comfort and general guidance that you will probably need extra adult hands for trips to the toilet or soothing of bumps. Invite parents to attend the party. This is a must for toddlers!
  • Dress Up. Toddlers love to dress up. Either ask them to come dressed up or pull out the dress-up box once the guests arrive.
  • Following Directions. Plan games if your child likes them, but don’t make them complicated and don’t be disappointed if you can’t get the guests to follow directions or cooperate with others. Have a back-up plan that encourages happy chaos (such as catching bubbles or wild dancing).
  • Leave Time for Discovery. On my daughter’s 2nd birthday, we let her explore each present before moving on. I didn’t want to encourage her to expect an endless stream of gifts, so that meant reading a whole book before moving on to try on a whole new outfit. Let your child savor the moment if the moment captures her attention.
  • Last-minute Food. Don’t put the food out until you are ready to eat. Toddlers won’t understand the idea of waiting for the right time. NOW is the right time!
  • Embrace the Mess. You may not expect cake in the face as with a 1st birthday party, but 2- and 3-year olds can still be messy. This is about the age that I realized my white couch wasn’t a good long-term plan. Hold the party outside or in a space that is easy to clean up—and don’t worry too much about the children getting messy. They will. It’s OK.
  • Keep It Short. Toddlers can fall apart spectacularly. Keep the party short, and let it end before the guests forget how much fun they are having. End on a high.

Image © Oksana Tumeniuk | Dreamstime.com